21 Ways to Bring in the Business

Despite your desperate hopes and prayers, business isn't just going to wander into your business. You need to get out there and hustle, and we've got the tips to help you do it.

We've found the perfect marketing solution for you. First, close your eyes. Now hug your computer monitor. Using top-secret technology developed at the Entrepreneur.com laboratories, we'll instantly transmit lists of bottomless-pocketed customers to your brain and your homebased business.

Well, OK, maybe not. But it's not because we don't have the technology (only one more logarithm to go, we swear)-really, we want to help you help yourself. So we've brought you something even better: 21 chunks of marketing know-how that will help you find the customers you need to fill your business's coffers. Print this out, post it up and integrate it into your marketing plan-and get ready for tons of sales.

The Basics
1. Create quality marketing tools. This doesn't mean you need to allot 75 percent of your budget to printing costs, presentation slides and a Web site. But it does mean you need to put deep thought into the cohesive image you want to present. "Sit down and make a list of everything you're going to need each time you make contact with a prospective customer or client, including a stationery package, brochures and presentation tools," advises marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, president of National Marketing Federation Inc.and an Entrepreneur.com columnist. "Then, if you can't [afford] to print it all at once, at least work with a designer and a copywriter to create the materials so you have them on disk."

If even this sends shivers down your bank account's spine, find creative ways to deal with it: Hire an art or marketing student from the local university, or barter your services with other homebased entrepreneurs.

2. Greet clients with style. Voice mail may not seem like a component of your marketing plan, but if a potential client calls and your kid answers, that client will be gone before you can even technically call him a client. So get yourself a professional voice-mail system (even the phone company offers options) with several boxes, advises Gordon, so callers can press "1" to hear more about your services, "2" for your web and e-mail addresses, etc.

3. Focus as narrowly as possible. Instead of trying to reach all the people some of the time, narrow your target audience to highly qualified prospects. Instead of going to seven networking groups once every two months, go to the two groups with the best prospects every week. "Instead of marketing to 5,000 companies, [find] several dozen highly qualified companies and make regular contact with them," says Gordon. Call them, mail your marketing materials, and then ask to meet. It'll save you money and time.

4. Make the most of trade shows. Here's a hodgepodge of tips, courtesy of Rick Crandall, a speaker, consultant and author of marketing books:

  • If you don't get a booth beforehand, try to find someone who might want to share their space with you. You help them run the booth, and they get a local who can show them the town.
  • If you decide not to get a booth, go anyway. You can always do business with the exhibitors--just be sure to respect their time with "real" customers before you approach them as a peer looking for some B2B action.
  • After the seminar, be absolutely, positively sure that you follow up on your leads. What's the point of attending if your leads end up in the trash? The Center for Exhibition Industry Researchsays 88 percent of exhibition attendees weren't called by salespeople in 2000. Try to improve that stat.

5. Conduct competitive intelligence online. When Joyce L. Bosc started Boscobel Marketing Communications Inc.in 1978 in her Silver Spring, Maryland, home, she had no clue what the competition was doing. Today, she points out, homebased entrepreneurs have it a lot easier. "As a homebased business [in 1978], how would you even find out what your competition was doing, what they were charging or what kind of clients they had?" says Bosc, whose company now has 18 employees and is no longer homebased. "Today, that information is completely at your fingertips." So find your competitors' sites and get clicking.

Getting Friendly
6. Offer your help. Want to be known as a good businessperson--and just as an all-around good person? Help others out. One of Ellen Cagnassola's biggest business-getters for her Fanwood, New Jersey, handcrafted soap business, MaryEllen's Sweet Soaps, is word-of-mouth that's generated by not only her good work, but also her good deeds. "I am the first to help another, and I offer ideas freely," says Cagnassola. "I think this and my enthusiasm for my business make people want to be a part of my success." Where does she offer help? A New Jersey Women's Business Center and her hometown's Downtown Revitalization Committee are just a few places she lends her expertise.

Another way to help out your community and your business is to align yourself with a nonprofit organization. Patrick Bishop, author of Money-Tree Marketing, offers this idea: "Set up a fund-raising program that benefits a school, like a discount card. At the same time the kids [are selling them, they are] promoting your business."

7. Offer work samples. Crandall suggests that if, for example, you're a web designer, you surf the internet, find a potential client and send them a few tips they can use to improve their site. Or you can do as Anne Collins did: "In the beginning, I was willing to just go out and beg for the business," says Collins, whose homebased Laurel, Maryland, graphic design firm, Collins Creative Services Inc., now boasts the U.S. Army as one of its clients. "Sometimes I would offer a small job for free just to show the potential client the quality of my work and to get them used to working with me."

8. Network. If this piece of marketing advice sounds like something you've heard before, there's a good reason: It works. Join your local chamber, leads groups like LeTip International Inc.or Leads Club, your industry association, or Rotary Club. When you go, ask the people you meet what leads they're looking for--and really listen to what they have to say. They'll repay you in kind.

9. Cross-promote with other businesses. Whom do you share customers with? Find them and figure out how you can promote one another. If you're a PR person, hook up with a copywriter or graphic designer for client referrals. Or you could take note of the collective that Crandall knows: The Wedding Mafia, a group of several wedding professionals (a caterer, DJ, dressmaker, photographer, etc.) who work together through referrals. Another option is to add a brief note at the bottom of invoices referring your accounting clients to "an excellent computer consultant," and have that consultant do the same for you.

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